Opinion Time!

Stately moldings, wood floors, big windows, nine-foot ceilings, and a variety of pests: some of the splendid features that come standard in New York City pre-war apartments. But those charms tend to come with some trade-offs. It’s hard to tell in the photos, but our floors are conspicuously slanted and none of our windows are quite square. The transom windows above the doors are long gone. Sometimes the exposed pipes get disconcertingly hot. But if loving our apartment demands loving all of our apartment, I suppose we can look past the flaws. Hey, if we ever literally lose our marbles, we’ll know which corner to find them in. Thanks, gravity.

Our lighting is something I both love and hate. When we first saw the apartment, we got ourselves all worked up thinking that the light fixtures in my bedroom and the living room were original, or at least the original electric ones (the building is old enough that the original fixtures might have been gas). Then I went through a phase of thinking they were some kind of bad 70s replicas. Now I really don’t know. More than one person has walked into the apartment and immediately asked “are you going to change out the lights?” But fuck the haters, I think they’re interesting. In any case, I’m not sure what to do with them.

When I first moved in, they looked like this. I’m all about sustainability, but I just refuse to accept those exposed CFL bulbs, and the frosted incandescents are just wrong. I know, I’m all sorts of evil, single-handedly causing global warming, but they’re ugly. I’ll use them in the lamps.

So that’s the first challenge, the bulbs. Ideally, I’d have fancy moody bulbs like this:

But I don’t live in a swanky restaurant or a haunted mansion, nor am I about to spend a small fortune on lightbulbs. So in an effort to add a mod spin on the old fixtures, I replaced all of the bulbs with clear round incandescents. A big improvement, but I can’t shake the feeling that they’re not right either.

Also, the flaky gold paint just isn’t my style. I was the first person to actually take down the lights before painting the ceilings in a long time, so the edges are also adorned in various shades of white-ish paint.

Requisite fire escape shot

So I took the one in my bedroom down, gave it some attention with a wire bush, and spray-painted it the same Rustoleum matte black as the door hardware, figuring it’ll be super-duper easy to just take them down and repaint them gold when we move.

I don’t even dislike the black, but I still feel like I’m missing something here. I’m not constitutionally against silver spray paint, but I have a feeling it would look tacky in this application. High-gloss black seems sort of dramatic glitzy-glam, for lack of a better explanation. Sometimes I think white is the answer, but that just doesn’t seem right either. Or am I crazy and the black-paint-clear-round-bulb-combo is a winner? Consequently, I’ve been holding off on doing the living room light until I have some sort of epiphany, but I’m losing faith that it’ll happen. That, and I can’t put it back without a second set of hands (coming soon!).

The suggestion box is open, don’t be shy.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 8.25.10
    Shilo said:

    Black with clear bulbs, yes! I love the combination of old and ornate with modern and slick.
    The fixtures have personality regardless of if they’re “original” or replica.

    Also, if you simply update the current fixtures, they won’t be taking up storage space waiting for the the day you reinstall them before moving out. It sounds petty, but I removed all the crappy fixtures in my Brooklyn apartment for nice ones when I moved in six years ago but the precious closet space the crappy ones take up drives me nuts.
    That’s six years of being driven nuts. I’m about ready to chuck them out and donate my gorgeous danish fixtures to my landlord when I move. Or wait, maybe not. See my dilemma? Avoid it.

    • 8.25.10

      Oh yeah, there’s pretty much no way these are being replaced. The whining above aside, I actually do quite like them, I just want to treat them properly. We don’t have a closet to put them in anyway! Good for you for replacing with stuff you like though, even if it causes headaches!

    • 8.27.10
      Jen said:

      Couldn’t you chuck the crappy fixtures, then replace them with new crappy fixtures when you move? Crappy fixtures are usually pretty cheap.

  2. 8.25.10
    Stephanie said:

    This is what you need in there:
    Seriously amazing :D

    I think you hit it on the head with the black. Looks perfect. But seriously, those bulbs look like crap. There’s just something about exposed bulbs that bother me (that is unless they are diamonds)
    Maybe buy glass shades to cover the bulbs?

  3. 8.25.10
    Angie said:

    I’m into the look where people paint old, ornate things some bright color, like a neon color. I think that would work there.

    The bulbs, eh, not sure about them but don’t know what would be better.

    • 9.24.10
      L said:

      I kind of love the black/exposed bulbs, but at first glance for some reason I thought you’d painted the sockets that amazing cobalt color…that’s another thought.

      But if they are a pain to replace, and you end up hating cobalt blue light fixtures, it could be quite a headache.

  4. 8.25.10
    jeannette said:

    the clear bulbs with the matte black fixture strike just the right kind of steam punk note. the uniformity and industrial chic of the visible filament with the round shiny globe against the victorian is just perfect. i think you could sell fixtures like these. go you.

    • 8.25.10
      jeannette said:

      p.s. you might could contemplate folding shades of some kind like our mutual friend bettina with her water bomb string lites over at chez larson.

    • 8.25.10
      jeannette said:

      but i hope you don’t

    • 8.25.10

      Thanks, Jeannette. I think the paper might be a fire hazard on 40 or 60 watt bulbs, but maybe we’ll steal that idea in the winter for string lights!

  5. 8.25.10
    Sana said:

    id’paint them white do they can blend in with the ceiling: like plaster decoration with some bulbs coming out directlyfrom the ceiling :)

    • 8.25.10
      Sarah said:


  6. 8.25.10
    monica said:

    I might be the lone dissenter here, but I liked it better with the gold than the black. There’s something about the high contrast of the black that is not right to me. But I would go for a much lighter gold or even a cream so that the bulbs almost blend into the fixture. I do like the contrast of the exposed/industrial clear bulbs with the ornate fixture, but envision more of a blending of color.

  7. 8.25.10
    Mel said:

    I just think you’re incredibly lucky to be able to paint and alter your apartment’s fixtures at all. Reading your blog is a vicarious pleasure for me.

    Where I live in Melbourne, Australia, property managers generally exercise their legal right to inspect the property every six months and most would have a fit if anything had been changed during that time.

    Some leases specify that even little things, like putting picture hooks in the walls, have to be okayed by the property manager. In practice some agents are more relaxed, but our rental market is so tight and absurdly overpriced that you don’t want to do anything that could conceivably get you evicted.

    • 8.25.10

      We are lucky, our landlord didn’t really lay out any rules other than everything had to be “back” (because it never really was) to white when we moved. Through the magic of spray paint, this kind of stuff is really reversible though, and even though the gold isn’t my style, the new gold spray paint will look so much nicer than the chipping fixtures did before. So everyone wins, I think.

  8. 8.25.10
    cheryl said:

    What about the light bulbs Anna D. at Door Sixteen blogged about on Jan. 22? It was her fab fix for boring fixture in her Manhattan apt. Bulb with silver-tipped round glass bulbs? Very cool. I like the matte black fixture you landed on…it looks period and fresh, the lightbulbs would be the finishing touch…

    • 8.26.10
      Colleen said:

      I agree – I love the look of the silver tipped bulbs with the black… I also wonder if they have any bulbs that screw into a typical hole but are longer.. more pendant-like

  9. 8.25.10
    Mom said:

    I think you posted the wrong last picture. It doesn’t look black.

    • 8.25.10

      I think that’s just the orangey-yellow light of the incandescent making that happen. It’s really hard to photograph a lit lightbulb.

  10. 8.25.10
    louryne said:

    When looking at your lights all I could think about is the couple who designed the ACE hotel (29th and Broadway). They have that industrial aesthetic and can make fixtures with raw light bulbs look great.

    Check them out:
    I wrote about them here: http://fourthfloorwalkup.com/?p=946

    Also, Someone apparently had the same problems at apartment therapy, you can read other opinions and ideas here :

    In my opinion, I’d keep it black and these crown bulbs would look great:

  11. 8.25.10
    ModFruGal said:

    Cheryl said what I was going to suggest, keep the base black with the silver tipped bulbs…mod and vintage. You’re close! The Brick House used them here too…

  12. 8.25.10
    Tania said:

    I’m with Angie… bright colours. How bout glossy kermit the frog green with white globes? You could paint spooky little black eyes on them and freak people out. [Sorry I had to keep running with that idea] Flocked miss piggy pink? Oil slick black with white globes? I like the spherical globes but I think they should be white. Also, a glossy paint would make the ceiling rose reflect its special talents. I’m also rather fond of a summery yellow or the same colour as the blue chair that sits (sat) at your desk.

    But… when I look at the rest of your house I think the black fits in best with your other things. I would try a gloss though.

  13. 8.25.10
    Tania said:

    Those diamond lights are stunning.

  14. 8.25.10

    I like the black paint and I think your clear bulbs look fine. But, like Cheryl, I was thinking half mirror bulbs would add a little something. Might improve the quality of light, too, as it would bounce off the ceiling.

  15. 8.25.10
    Allison said:

    I really like the black with the round bulbs. Do you think your landlord will even notice that you’ve painted them? I’d be really surprised.

  16. 8.25.10
    Laura said:

    Chrome bulbs for sure: http://www.amazon.com/Sylvania-14234-40G25-CHROME-TOP-Silver/dp/B002E32FR2, but I like the idea of high gloss black on the fixture. It would shine against the lights, bring out the details of the fixture, and I think have more substance than the matte. It would look like old-school enamel (rather than “glitzy-glam”). Btw, found you thanks to Anna, and LOVE your blog. Great job, keep it coming!

  17. 8.25.10
    Nat said:

    either black with chrome tipped bulbs, or white with clear bulbs. totally depends on what else is going on in the room

    and please keep the posts coming, they’s always a treat :)

  18. 8.25.10

    @ cheryl, louryne, ModFruGal, Lauren at TrimNYC, Laura, Nat: Three cheers for chrome-tipped bulbs! I remember bringing this up during our first walk-through, but I wimped out a) because they didn’t have any at home depot and b) because I’m not sure the light would diffuse quite as well since it would all be coming out the top and bouncing off the ceiling. It’s probably worth trying though, if I can find a cheap source (I need 9, and probably a spare or two for when they burn out… $).

    • 8.25.10

      Try the Bowery. That’s where I finally found Edison bulbs.

    • 8.26.10
      Dan said:

      Is the Bowery a specific store or just the area? Google isn’t being terribly helpful…

    • 8.25.10
      ModFruGal said:

      I think with a fresh white ceiling you’ll have enough light, yet not so bright that it looks like an operating room where you have to shield your eyes like a sleastak…can’t wait to see what you do!

  19. 8.25.10

    First, I like that mom called you out in the comments. My dad likes to do that to me, too. I was actually thinking that maybe it hadn’t had enough coats of spray paint and some of the gold was coming through underneath? It doesn’t look like a deep black, but I kind of like it that way (if that is the case of course…..I realize the hue might just be a combo of the reflection of the lights).

    Second, while I DO like the black, have you considered something different, maybe something bright? I love what Sarah at Russet Street Reno did with her lamps: russetstreetreno

    I think the bright red looks awesome and seems like it could work on your fixtures. Unfortunately I have no suggestions for the bulbs which seems to be what you’re really asking about. Can’t wait to see what you do with it though!

    (ps-sorry if the link turns out all wanky…I really have no idea what I’m doing. So hopefully it works)

    • 8.25.10

      Yeah, it’s not the best picture, it really is a solid black! I tried to color-correct but my photo editing skills are limited. Parents, nothing slips past ’em.

  20. 8.25.10
    decorarts said:

    Go with the Edison bulbs that gal found in the Bowery. That is what is intended for your fixtures. And I like the black. Also the bulbs are available at rejuvenation.com.

    • 8.26.10
      Dan said:

      I really would, but I just can’t justify spending $150-$200 on lightbulbs. Just not happening. But it’s good to know that Rejuvenation sells that stuff, I had no idea!

  21. 8.26.10
    Ann Wilson said:

    We had two pre-war apartments in NYC, but never had those type of fixtures which I think are before the 30’s. I am a purist (usually) so I would like them a gold, or bronzy color. In the old days I am fairly sure large flame type bulbs were used. They were a kind of goldy orange. My grandfather’s house was built around 1920 and he had those type of fixtures. If you wanted to use regular bulbs, you could always stick those clip on small lamp shades upside down. Could you make them with a solid bottom, like all the new lamp shade chandeliers at Pottery Barn and such?
    The Bowery is a street. It is on the Lower East Side somewhere near the Puck Building. It is the home of all the lamp stores. I think there is a shop called the Light Bulb Store. They also have places that sell only shades, etc. There should be many different stores there. There might even be a store called Bowery Lighting. You can check on line. The Bowery used to be a street with all small stores, or industrial type businesses. It also had tons of one room hotels. All the addicts and alcoholics and homeless used to live around there and hang in the street. Therefore the term Bowery bums.
    Do you think you could use a special kind of paint and paint regular light bulbs chrome? There are so many kinds of paint these days, you can even paint plastic and make it look like metal. One solution would be to put in regular bulbs, then hang a white Noguchi type shade from the ceiling that would cover the old fixture completely. I will bet that YOU could make a square or rectangular shade using long dowels or chopsticks and paste paper (like rice paper, or heavy tissue paper) over it for an Asian knockoff. You can buy those big paper collapsible globes at party stores and a white one might work. You could paint it with thinned down craft paint for a different shade. I am sure you will come up with an inventive solution. One of my favorite light fixtures are those old Arts and Crafts gothic hanging things with bats all over them. Ann

    • 8.26.10

      Thanks, Ann. Of COURSE I checked to see if this was DIY-able, and I think the answer is sort of. You can buy a high-heat spray paint (used for things like car engines) in metallic colors, but I don’t think you could ever really DIY that mirror effect, it would be more like a brushed chrome.

  22. 8.26.10
    Melanie said:

    I like the gold better than black, too – I think there’s just something so awesomely gaudy and ornate about the gold, so blingy and cool but not as over-the-top as silver would be. I’d say put some sort of glass cover over the bulbs, something simple so it doesn’t get overwhelming gaudy, and repaint them gold. But I also have weird, tacky taste (we have a velvet kitten painting and a hot pink banana painting in our living room), so I am not the best judge of this sort of thing. ;)

  23. 8.26.10

    Hi! Just commenting to say I really like the black fixture, but the lightbulbs look kind of weird to me… I don’t know what could work though, sorry. Have you thought about covering them? Or have you already decided to keep them bare?
    P.S. I really like your blog so I added you to my blogroll, hope you don’t mind!

  24. 8.26.10
    Bethany said:

    i think one other person said this, but i think white would be so hot. while i am usually all for painting things black, intricate details tend to get lost in dark colors. if they were white, it would allow the lovely design to stand out from the ceiling rather than the color. let the fixture speak for itself! :)

    ps. lovely blog you have here.

  25. 8.26.10
    Erica said:

    You can big fat round bulbs with the half silver/chrome effect. I have one in one fixture where the bulb is exposed and it really works well. You don’t go blind looking straight at the light but it illuminates properly.

    If Home Depot doesn’t have them, see if there’s a Tru-Valu hardware store around. They should have ’em in stock.

    The Edison flickery ones don’t give off as much light as the same voltage (or wattage or whatever) silvery ones.

    Or you could go to Spencer’s gifts and get black lights. :)

  26. 8.27.10
    tallin said:

    If the chrome tipped bulbs are too expensive, what about DIYing them?

    It’ll take some work (and you really have to work with delicate hands) but if you spray-painted the tips of the bulbs you already have with some metallic spray-paint, I think you could achieve the same effect for a lot less $. You could probably create mask akin to a dog’s vet collar to keep the whole bulb from getting sprayed

    It’s worth a shot.

    I hand-painted my CFL’s with a very watery pink acrylic paint because I couldn’t stand the light the CFL’s gave out. It’s a bit dimmer now, but the light is sooo much more pleasing.

  27. 8.28.10
    denise said:

    I’m not sure why but I like the idea of these to change the look of the bulbs and twice as much is always better! Right! haha i just wish they came in black…

  28. 8.28.10
    Christian said:

    I really really like the gold, with the clear round bulbs. The black isn’t doing it for me. Silver spray paint would look awful.

    The gold/clear bulb combo reminds me of an old movie theatre, or a fancy hotel that had a gold ceiling with rows upon rows of clear round lights. I can’t seem to find a picture on google though, hopefully you know what I’m talking about. Looks really great!

  29. 8.29.10
    Fiona said:

    I think the reason it’s nearly there but not quite is the contrast between the really strong graphic moulding and the delicate bulbs. Usually that contrast doesn’t matter because the moulding and pendant are separated by a hanging cable. You need to make both work together. So go for either the black with mercury tips which would be so so cool and maybe expensive-but-worth-it, or go for the much cheaper and delicate look of white-painted moulding with the pretty glass bulbs.

  30. 8.29.10

    We have chromed crown lightbulbs in our bathroom and I think they would add the perfect touch to the black. A bright color may be a nice change of pace down the road but not now. And white will erase much of the details, Ithink.

  31. 9.8.10

    I adore the large light bulbs, and although the silver tipped ones are even cooler…they are crazy expensive, so I can understand not wanting to go that route. I have to say, I might go back to gold though. It’s SO period. But, the black is good too. Maybe matte black might modern it up.

  32. 10.1.10
    sage said:


    Something to brighten, a punch of color and totally affordable. =]

  33. 10.12.10
    Ryan said:

    I know I’m late to the party, but had to comment. I have a few similar old fixtures in the entry and a variation in the bedrooms. What I find funny is the “modern” bulbs you put in the fixture, are actually what would have been in a lot of exposed fixtures like that. This page is from 1923 (so maybe newer than your apartment) but see how all the exposed bulbs are round? The gold color is probably right too, but that paint job looks too matte to be original. Some were ornately painted with up to 4 or five different colors. I like the black, but really any strong color would look nice.

    • 10.12.10

      Thanks for the info, Ryan! Yeah, I was walking in Grand Central, obviously checking out their light fixtures, and even though they’re HUGE and ornate, I’d guess the period is similar. They have exposed round frosted glass bulbs with the gold fixtures, which I think is quite period appropriate. I guess the goal here is to respect that style and shape (they feel cohesive with the pre-war moldings and hardware in the apartment, which I like) while still making them feel modern and… more “me”? Hence the black, but I’m not sold it’s the right approach. I think the clear round bulbs are staying, though.